By Teresa Goodwin, Regional Director of HPA, Inc.
When I was in elementary school, I attended class year-round. My parents preferred this schedule because it made it easier to manage their careers while raising school-aged children. My siblings and I, fortunately, were therefore spared the summer learning loss that negatively impacts the academic achievement of so many children throughout the Golden State.
According to the Review of Educational Research, most students lose about two months of mathematical computation skills when they’re out of school during the summer, and that those from low-income families may lose more than two months in reading achievement during this time.
That’s bad news for California employers who are already concerned that only 29 percent of our eighth graders are proficient in reading and only 28 are proficient in math, which doesn’t bode well for future success in college, or for our economy as a whole. As an engineer and Regional Director of a design company responsible for many high-profile building projects, I am especially concerned about college completion rates because a recent ReadyNation study found that 96 percent of the jobs in California’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) sector will require postsecondary education by the year 2020.
Fortunately, a coalition led by California’s own Partnership for Children & Youth is working to ensure that children have expanded learning opportunities throughout the year. In one of the most ambitious summer learning initiatives to date, their Summer Matters campaign has created rigorous summer learning programs in 13 communities. With an eye toward both achievement and aspirations, the opportunities strike a balance between the remediation typically found in traditional “summer school” and the sense of exploration and discovery of summer camp.
In the Bay Area, for example, students at last summer’s “Super Power Summer Camp” at El Roble School in Gilroy worked with NASA engineers and learned how to build and use telescopes and read astronomy charts. At the East Bay Asian Youth Center’s “Camp Thrive” in Oakland, students learned about protecting natural resources and constructed earthquake-resistant buildings.
These are the types of hands-on, deeper learning activities that help young people discover their unique interests and aptitudes while they continue to master core academic content. Summer learning programs give students more time to build social-emotional skills, such as persistence and the ability to collaborate and communicate effectively. These skills are as critical on the job as they are in the classroom.
Research shows that these efforts are paying off: researchers at RAND found evidence that participation in high quality summer programs significantly stemmed learning loss in mathematics among low-income students.
Likewise, after-school programs offer academic tutoring and safe places to play in the hours after the school bell rings. They provide ample opportunities for career exploration and help kids develop an academic mindset. High-quality after-school programs can also help kids get more excited about coming to school and learning, and as a result boost attendance and graduation rates. Students who participated in the Oakland Unified School District’s after-school programs were less likely than nonparticipants to be chronically absent from school, and ultimately increased their school-day attendance by 35,343 days in the 2010-2011 school year, earning the district between $827,019 and $989,596 in additional revenue.
Unfortunately, like most educational programs, extended learning opportunities are limited by financial challenges that should be addressed by elected leaders and education administrators. Under California’s Local Control Funding Formula school and community leaders have a unique opportunity to invest in summer and other innovative year-round learning programs.
By providing high-quality after-school and summer learning programs during the K-12 years, we can help ensure that today’s students will be workforce ready in years to come. They will be adequately prepared to pursue college or career. For all of these reasons, I hope educators, business and community leaders can work together to prioritize investments in after-school and summer learning programs in order to make them available to more students in California.
Teresa Goodwin is Regional Director of HPA, Inc., a design corporation that offers service in architecture, planning and interiors for companies throughout the western United States.